Synth sensuality at work

The art of the cover version can be a tricky thing to pull off successfully. Radical adaptations can completely reinvent a classic song, but can also alienate people who believe covers should be a slavish copy of the original. Some of the fierce responses to Gary Jules’ haunting version of Tears For Fears’ classic ‘Mad World’ springs to mind, but synth critics of such versions tend to forget that distinctive transformations of songs can appeal to new audiences (Hello Soft Cell’s version of ‘Tainted Love’).

Johnny Normal and Bridget Gray have been writing and performing as The Rude Awakening since 2018. The release of their debut album Kaleidoscope (see TEC review previously) put the duo on the map with a critically favourable response. More recently, they presented a commentary of sorts on the Covid-19 crisis in the form of ‘It’s Ok Not To Be Ok’ (as explored by TEC previously). The duo have also collaborated and remixed for a variety of acts, including B-Movie, Birmingham Electric, The Livelong June, Mechanical Cabaret and Peter Godwin.

Not content with a busy schedule of their own releases and their various remix work, electropop duo The Rude Awakening have embarked on a new covers EP, helpfully titled Under The Covers.

The Rude Awakening’s choice of songs to adapt for this EP is a diverse selection, although all fall under the classic era of synth-pop. The tunes are also not necessarily the most obvious choices from the acts in question, but TRA’s versions manage to be faithful in their approach while also retaining a polish that’s distinctly rubber-stamped with The Rude Awakening style.

In its original incarnation, Tubeway Army’s ‘Bombers’ has a spiky raw power to it which remained a classic for Gary Numan’s musical arsenal going forward. Under the attention of TRA, the song retains a percussive energy to it, but here with a much more electronic heft. The use of samples of aircraft and machine-gun fire keeps the dynamism of the original intact while Johnny Normal’s vocals have an insistent quality here augmented by Bridget Gray’s subtle additions.

OMD’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ presents an unusual choice, particularly when you consider that Wirral’s Finest have the likes of ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Electricity’ in their catalogue (often the go-to tunes for many cover versions). ‘Joan Of Arc’ is one of those compositions that’s so quintessentially OMD that it’s tough to imagine how any act could tackle a cover of it that does the song justice.

Yet what makes the TRA version so intriguing is the use of female vocals, which throws the song’s themes and concept in a new light. Here, the song’s build-up of joint vocals also gives the whole affair an intriguing nod to the original’s synth anthem qualities. There’s also a clever adoption of an OMD style in terms of arrangement here, but also one which is not simply aping the original. The burbling synth rhythms that underpin this version are also a nice touch, giving the song an offbeat appeal.

Meanwhile, Japan’s classic ‘Quiet Life’ is given a lush workover with layered synths. The kick and drive of the original is still present and correct, but the synth-funk appeal of the original is softened here. The song also seems to lend itself well to Johnny Normal’s vocal style, here also given a nice harmonic flourish care of Bridget Gray’s contributions (which includes a mesmerising spoken vocal segment).

Erasure’s ‘Spiralling’ is perhaps the most unusual cover for the EP. Originally a cut from Erasure’s classic 1987 album The Circus, ‘Spiralling’ in its original form was an icy fragile exploration of vulnerability. Here, the cover version retains its emotive power, but with a softer approach which is wonderfully offset by the joint vocals.

The aim for this EP, as the band put it, was to be “more than a boy/girl duo dressing up and singing into a hairbrush”. The end result for Under The Covers is a warm, engaging selection of songs that breathe with a synth sensuality. It provides a suitable tribute to the originals, as well as being a fine showcase for The Rude Awakening’s talent for tunes and arrangement.

Under The Covers is out now on the AbNormal label:


Photo: Robert Minter